Friends Or Foes?





"Hold! stand! who are ye, and whither go ye?" was the stern challenge,

the sound of which startled Zarah out of a pleasant dream. The motion

of the litter suddenly ceased, a strong hand was on the bridle of the

horse which Lycidas was riding, a weapon was pointed at the breast of

the Greek. There was not yet sufficient light to enable him to

distinguish whether those who thus arrested the further progress of the

party were Syrians or Hebrews.



"We are quiet travellers," said the Athenian; "let us pursue our

journey in peace. If gold be your object, I will give it."



"If we want your gold we can take it," cried the leader of the band

that now surrounded the litter. "Are you a follower of Antiochus

Epiphanes?"



"No," replied Lycidas boldly. To speak the simple truth is ever the

manliest, and in this instance it also proved the safest course to

pursue. The grasp on the Greek's bridle was relaxed, the point of the

weapon was lowered, and in a more courteous tone the leader inquired,

"Are you then a friend of Judas Maccabeus?"



"May he be given the necks of his enemies!" exclaimed Joab, before

Lycidas had time to reply. "It is his kinswoman whom we are taking in

this litter to Bethsura, that we may put her in safety out of reach of

the tyrant who has sworn to slay her because she will not burn incense

to his idol!"



"What, the lady Hadassah?" asked one of the men.



"No, it is more than six months since that Mother in Israel departed to

Abraham's bosom," replied Joab, lowering his tone.



An exclamation of regret burst from more than one of those who

surrounded the litter, and he who had first spoken observed, "These

will be sorry tidings for Maccabeus and his brethren."



Lycidas now addressed a Hebrew who appeared to be of superior condition

to the others. "In this litter," he said, "is the grand-daughter of

the lady Hadassah. She is fleeing from persecution, and seeks an

asylum in the home of an aged relative who dwells near Bethsura."



"Ah! Rachel the widow; we know her well," was the reply.



"Then you can guide this lady to her abode."



"Guide her into the wolf's den!" exclaimed the Hebrew; and one of his

companions added with a laugh, "The only way to reach Rachel's dwelling

from hence is over the corpses of defeated Syrians, as mayhap we shall

do ere to-morrow."



Alarmed at finding that he had conducted Zarah to the scene of an

expected deadly conflict, Lycidas inquired with anxiety, "Where then

can the lady and her attendant find shelter and protection?"



"For protection, she has all that our swords can give--our fate must be

her fate," replied the Hebrew whom the Greek had addressed. "As for

shelter, there is a goatherd's hut hard by. Some of our men have

passed the night there, though our leader slept on the ground."



There was some whispering amongst the Hebrews, and Lycidas caught the

words, uttered in a half-jesting tone, "An awkward matter for Maccabeus

to have this his fair kinswoman coming on the eve of a battle on which

the fate of Judah depends."



"I pray you show us this hut at once," said the Greek, annoyed at

Zarah's being exposed to such observations, and impatient to remove her

as soon as possible to a place of as much retirement as could be found

in the camping-ground of an army. "The lady has travelled all night,

and is weary."



"I will lead her to the hut," said one of the Hebrews; "and do you,

Saul," he continued, addressing a companion, "go at once and announce

to our prince the lady's arrival."



Again the litter of Zarah moved onwards, and the weary horses were

guided to a hut at no great distance. One of the Jewish soldiers ran

on before to give notice, that the dwelling might be vacated of its

warlike occupants, and put into such order for the reception of a lady

as circumstances and haste would permit. The Hebrews who had passed

the frosty night under the roof of the goatherd's dwelling, quitted it

at once to make room for the lady and her handmaid, leaving a portion

of their simple breakfast for the newly-arrived guests.



A homely care occupied the mind of Zarah on her way to the hut.



"Anna," she said to her attendant, "we are much beholden to Joab, and I

have no shekels wherewith to pay for the hire of the litter and horses,

or to requite him for his faithful service. It is not meet that the

Lord Lycidas should be at charges for me. Let Joab speak to me when I

quit the litter, or do you give him this jewel from me."



The jewel was a massive silver bracelet, which had been worn by the

unhappy Pollux. Zarah had selected this from the other ornaments which

had belonged to her parents, on account of the weight of metal which it

contained. There was also something heathenish in the fashion of the

bracelet itself, which made the Hebrew maiden care not to keep it as a

remembrance of her father.



"Joab is not here," said Anna, glancing from between the curtains; "he

has given up the guidance of the horses to one of the Hebrew warriors."



Joab had in fact gone off with Saul, being eager to be the first to

carry to Judas Maccabeus intelligence of what had occurred in Jerusalem

since they had parted beside the martyrs' grave, and especially of the

momentous events which had occurred in the family of Hadassah.



"If I cannot see Joab himself," observed Zarah, "I must ask the Lord

Lycidas to find him and do this my errand, for the muleteer must not go

unrewarded by me."



Accordingly, after the maiden, assisted by Lycidas, had descended from

her litter, and explored with Anna the goatherd's abode, she bashfully

asked her protector to execute for her this little commission, and with

the heavy silver bracelet requite her obligation to Joab. "To

yourself," added Zarah with downcast eyes, "I can proffer but heartfelt

thanks."



The spirits of Lycidas had risen: with him, as with nature, the gloom

of night was now succeeded by the brilliance of morning. The rebound

of a mind lately weighed down with intense anxiety and the pressure of

heavy responsibility was so great that it seemed as if every care were

flung off for ever. Lycidas had accomplished his dangerous mission; he

had placed his beloved charge under the care of her relatives; and he

felt assured that her heart was his own. The clang of martial

preparation which he now heard around him was as music to the ardent

spirit of the Greek. He was now going to join in a brave struggle

under a heroic commander, to deserve Zarah, and then to win her! The

heart of the gallant young Athenian beat high with hope.



"Nay, Zarah," said Lycidas gaily, in reply to the maiden's words; "I

may one day claim from you something better than thanks. As for the

bracelet, rest assured that I will well requite faithful Joab; he shall

be no loser if I keep the jewel in pledge, and never part with it, save

to my bride." Lycidas clasped the bracelet on his arm, as with a proud

and joyous step he quitted the goatherd's hut.



"Stay, Lycidas," expostulated Zarah, following him over the threshold;

but then arresting her steps, and watching his receding form for a

moment with a smile as radiant as his own. "How could he fear a

rival!" was the thought flitting through Zarah's mind as she gazed.

She then turned to re-enter the hut, and saw before her--Judas

Maccabeus!





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